Friday, March 31, 2006
Updated: January 8, 3:52 PM ET
By Scott Cooley
Bassmaster.com exclusive March 31, 2006
It isn't often that the road to the Final Four in college basketball parallels the career of an emerging professional bass angler. That's the case with Kurt Dove, a long-time college basketball enthusiast, as he paves his way into the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series.
It's bass fishing's version of March Madness.
One of the most intriguing stories of the young sports year is no doubt the college basketball team of George Mason University. In perhaps the greatest run ever to the Final Four, the little school located in Washington D.C. knocked off perennial powerhouses and recent national champions Michigan State, North Carolina, and Connecticut to get there.
The top 64 teams in NCAA basketball duke it out for the title in a committee-selected tournament spanning over a three-week period. It takes a record of 6-0 during in "The Dance" to be crowned champions of collegiate basketball.
Cinderella has her glass slippers on and she is ready for the ballroom.
Most people love to root for the Cinderella team because they are always the underdog, and are always given an opportunity to knock off an elite team. One particular Elite Series angler would love to see George Mason keep those glass slippers snug around the toes.
Rookie Bassmaster pro, Kurt Dove, is an Alumnus of George Mason University. He graduated in 1996 with a Bachelor of Science in Resource Management.
"I wanted to become a fisheries biologist, but when I started in with the science stuff I really didn't want to go through all of the work."
Dove and his sister worked at the Patriot Center, the arena where George Mason holds its home games, as ushers during college. The 33-year-old angler who resides in Warrenton, Va., has to be one of the biggest George Mason fans in the country, and he didn't just hop on the bandwagon either.
"My wife (Rhonda) and I attend all of the home games together, and we've had season tickets for at least 15 years. We knew they had a great club this year, but to see the Patriots go this far is simply amazing."
With Dove being a rookie on the trail, George Mason's awakening is very comparable to what he is experiencing during his first year in the Elite Series.
"I thought I was really ready for the Elite because I cashed in seven of my last nine Open events. But to be honest with you, it has been a rude awakening since I got here."
Dove qualified through the Southern Tour, but has been acclimated to the extreme level of competition on the Elite Series trail by finishing in 99th place at Lake Amistad and 83rd at Sam Rayburn.
When asked what he would have to do to get back in the game and make a George Mason-like run Dove responded with character, and compared his struggles to that of a basketball team.
"I think a lot of it is familiarity. It's just like the players on the George Mason team. You have to get familiar with playing together, and I've got to get familiar with playing against these guys.
"That is why conference foes in basketball are so tough. Once you have played a team or fished on a body of water, you get to be a little bit more in tune with what is going on.
"Most of these guys have fished these lakes five or six times in tournament settings. They know the waters and have tons of knowledge of the lakes. It is just the same for a team like Duke when they get to the tournament, they have a lot of experience."
Dove's fishing mentality at any competitive level is that everything is a learning process.
"You learn so much every day, that is the way fishing progresses. You start out at the club level where you learn a little bit through every tournament, and then you win a couple events.
"Then you start fishing at the Open level or the Weekend Series. You are basically paying for more expensive fishing lessons. Once you have learned all the lessons you can at that level you move up the ladder to the next."
Kurt Dove must have called on the Patriot's coach Jim Larranaga for a miracle out of the old playbook. The rookie barely squeaked into the top 50 of this week's Elite Series on the Santee-Cooper Reservoir to reserve himself a spot to fish on Saturday. He will also earn his first Elite check because the 50th place angler pockets $10,000 for his efforts.
It took George Mason three attempts to even win a game in the NCAA tournament before this year. This is the third stop of the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series. Perhaps this is the stepping stone Dove needs to break through and propel his career as an Elite angler.
The Cinderella story for the George Mason Patriots continues on Saturday night at 6 PM EST as they battle the University of Florida in the semi-final matchup.
The CITGO Bassmaster weigh-in resumes on Saturday at 3 PM at the John C. Land III Landing in Summerton on Grenall Road.